30,000 people viewed the Web page, and a handful reported that they had experienced strange events just looking at the painting on their computers.
One reported hearing an exorcist-type voice, along with a blast of hot air. Another reported that he became ill while viewing the painting and had to burn white sage to cleanse his house afterward. Another reported "blackout/mind control experiences."
The sellers backtracked before the auction was over and wrote, "There are no ghosts in this world, no supernatural powers, this is just a painting, and most of these things have an explanation, in this case, probably a fluke light effect."
This hardly deterred the true believers. Numerous Web sites and chat rooms devoted to the legendary "Haunted Painting of eBay" popped up.
Nobody was more flabbergasted by this legend than Bill Stoneham, a 55-year-old Spokane computer-graphics artist who works for Cyan Worlds, the company that created the best-selling computer games Myst and Riven.
Stoneham, you see, was the guy who painted this artwork, 30 years ago.
"The Haunted Painting of eBay" is actually "Hands Resist Him," a painting Stoneham sold to a California gallery in 1973 and didn't see again.
At least until August 2001, when the owner of the Perceptions Gallery in Grand Rapids, Mich., e-mailed Stoneham. The gallery had bought the painting from the California couple on eBay for $1,200, and the owner had tracked him down from a label on the back of the painting. He advised Stoneham to check out the various Web pages.
Stoneham was spooked, all right, but not for the same reasons.
"Suddenly, there's a blown-up image of my face from the painting," he said. "Now, that was a creepy feeling."
He was, in fact, the little boy in the painting, which he had painted from an old, faded family photo of himself with a little neighbor girl.
Then he started reading about the "haunted" lore. His first reaction was to think, "Why would they hang that in the kid's bedroom?"
His second reaction was to wonder how this painting had sparked such a ghost-storm. When he painted it, he said he had deliberately used Jungian and metaphysical symbolism. The door represented a gate to possibilities, and the hands represented "other lives."
He never intended it to be spooky, supernatural or even particularly disturbing. As for the "weapon," he said it was a dry-cell battery with wires coming out the top, like the ones he used as a kid for his model planes.
Since then, the "haunted" painting has changed his life in many ways. It inspired him to start his own Web page and to begin painting again for the first time in more than a decade. He said the strong reaction to his painting, even if not what he intended, was flattering.
He is enjoying a degree of fame, and not just on the Web. A radio talk show host in Dallas, Jessie Jessup on KDGE-FM, is running a "Haunted Painting" contest in which listeners are sending in essays about the painting. Entries will be judged on "creative creepiness" and chosen on the air today, Halloween.
Stoneham is one of the judges, and he has found reading the entries to be unsettling.
"People are getting very carried away, saying that the kid (in the painting) was abused by drunken parents, that sort of thing," said Stoneham. "It's like being in a coma in a roomful of people who are all speculating on your life."
Meanwhile, he has entered into an agreement with the Perceptions Gallery to sell limited edition prints of "Hands Resist Him" for $450 each, or a smaller version for $185.
One of those prints hangs on the wall in his south Spokane Victorian home.
Has this print ever spawned any, you know, freaky occurrences?
"Well," said Stoneham, thinking for a moment. "When we moved it here from my old apartment, the U-Haul broke down."